Rob Gronkowski takes 'step forward'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was a familiar sight on the New England Patriots practice field on Monday afternoon -- quarterback Tom Brady once again connecting with tight end Rob Gronkowski in full-team drills. In fact, with Gronkowski graduating to full-team drills for the first time since undergoing surgery on his torn right ACL Jan. 9, it took Brady all of one play to find Gronkowski for the first time.

"It's definitely huge to get it going again," Gronkowski said of his connection with Brady. "I've been working with Tom since I've been out here, but we haven't been doing it vs. the defense or anything. So it was good to be out there and 'Boom!' it was just like it was never missed before. He hit me."

Brady and Gronkowski had two connections in the drill, which Gronkowski has been working towards participating in since the start of training camp July 24.

"You just can't jump right into 11-on-11 action," he said. "You have to do 1-on-1s, getting your body [in form], getting your legs underneath you all before that. So that's why it was good to do everything I was leading up to it, so when I went out there today, I felt like I was prepared and ready to go."

Gronkowski pointed out that he didn't absorb full contact in the practice, but there was some minor hitting, including one play in which he had the football stripped from him by rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler. Gronkowski's next challenge is to take more repetitions in practice and shift into a higher gear with blocking.

Last month, Gronkowski had said that his plan was to play all 16 games this year, and he reiterated that intention Monday. As for possibly playing in one of the Patriots' final two preseason games, Gronkowski deferred to the athletic training staff.

"I just love playing the game of football, so whenever they let me have a chance, I definitely want to play," he said. "We're all on the same page. We'll see."

Summing up his work Monday, Gronkowski added, "Definitely a step forward with participating more and more. It's doing well so far, no setbacks or anything. ... I'm having a blast competing back out there."

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